PURPOSE: Understanding the experience of late effects from the perspective of cancer survivors is essential to inform patient-centred care. This study investigated the nature and onset of late effects experienced by survivors and the manner in which late effects have affected their lives.
METHODS: Sixteen purposively selected cancer survivors participated in a qualitative interview study. The data were analysed inductively using a narrative schema in order to derive the main themes that characterised patients' accounts of late effects.
RESULTS: Individual survivors tended to experience more than one late effect spanning a range of physical and psychological effects. Late effects impacted on relationships, working life, finances and the ability to undertake daily activities. Survivors reported experiencing psychological late effects from around the end of treatment whereas the onset of physical effects occurred later during the post-treatment period. Late effects were managed using formal health services, informal social support and use of 'wellbeing strategies'. Survivors engaged in a process of searching for reasons for experiencing late effects and struggled to make sense of their situation. In particular, a process of 'peer-patient comparison' was used by survivors to help them make sense of, or cope with, their late effects. There appeared to be an association between personal disposition and adaptation and adjustment to the impact of late effects.
CONCLUSIONS: Cancer survivors identified potential components for supported self-management or intervention programmes, as well as important considerations in terms of peer comparisons, personal disposition and making sense of experienced late effects.